How do other people manage to set up their personal websites? It is easy enough with WordPress to get a basic site up and running. But it has taken me days and days to work out how to get social media buttons onto the sidebar of this one. I fly about between screens, chasing URLs and passwords and old memos in the deep caverns of my computer and among the loose notes and notebooks on my desk. The worst of it is that I cannot reward myself with a glass of wine at six o’clock. I’m trying to lower blood pressure through diet rather than medication, so no alcohol for a while.
All these tussles and puzzles need to be gone through in order to regain my mojo for writing. I want to find new readers for the kind of fiction I like to write. In the past when I was lucky enough to be published by mainstream publishers, I received lots of good reviews. I can see no reason why there aren’t a number of readers out there who would enjoy my last three novels. But how can we find each other?
I’ve given up on getting any response from agents or publishers, and am now swimming in the crowded ocean of self-publishers, most of whom – or so it seems to me – write fantasy fiction of one sort or another, with an anything-goes kind of attitude to writing standards.
If anyone who happens to read this and is in the same situation as I am – a writer of literary fiction who has been published in the past by mainstream publishers – do please get in touch.
There may be people who never feel the need for feedback. Perhaps even Trappist monks occasionally feel let down when they spend the day in prayer and no-one says at the end “Well done.” If you cook a meal, and I don’t mean just heat up a readymade, you’re encouraged to repeat the performance if it’s greeted with appreciation. Even as the daily cook in our household of two, I know I like to hear some kind of response, even if it’s just the question, “Is there any more?”
Yesterday, 26th April, I received the consultant’s report after a CT colonoscopy on March 31st. During the wait, I’d felt reasonably confident the result would be clear. Yet it is all too easy to fill silences with imaginary bad news. So I was relieved to learn that the scan showed up nothing untoward. Better than this was the consultant’s style. His letter read like a kindly schoolteacher’s summing up of the term’s work: “the bowel was well prepared” … “this is a reassuring investigation”. It made me feel like a praised pupil and led me to think about feedback, how useful it can be, not just for morale but for guidance.
This morning I played around with something that turned up in the (possibly) haphazard way that happens when we log onto our emails. Google suggested I create a form. So I’ve come up with a feedback form for “White Lies”. Whether this will be useful or not remains to be seen. I’ve had good reviews posted on the novel’s Amazon page but many readers don’t bother. Others are given the book or borrow it, so they are not ‘verified purchasers’ and therefore not entitled to post a review.
The form may be a way of capturing the response of more readers. Or I might ditch that form and compose another one for all my novels. Here’s the link: https://goo.gl/forms/IJoDTVzRVZJdNKwm1. If anyone has a view on the questions I’ve chosen to put on the form, I’d appreciated feedback.
At the same time I became involved in a LinkedIn book group discussion. Someone asked how he could get reviews for the short story he’d just published on Amazon. His request was not worded well. He wrote, “We’re there any funny parts.” I found myself eager to point out how the apostrophe altered his intended meaning. Later, I worried that I’d been harsh on a newcomer. I hope he can accept what I consider was constructive feedback.
I wrote my first post on July 11th 2016. Tomorrow that will be six months ago. Now, at the beginning of a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on my website history as well as look forward to the way the site is developing.
Re-reading my first post, I can remember my feelings of bewilderment and determination. It was like diving into a lake shrouded in fog. I knew I wanted to be in that lake – but was it safe? Were there unseen obstacles? Was it full of struggling swimmers who might pull me down? Would I sink without trace?
Even though I’d set up websites in the past – one that I paid to have designed, another I’d created myself on a template – this WordPress one seemed almost too easy. I hadn’t set out to make a blog appear on its home page, but hey presto! a blog appeared: an easy forum for passing thoughts. What was I going to call it? The term used in the menu to describe this page was ‘Posts’. In the whoosh of my first dive-in, the phrase “First past the post” came to me. Well, it was the first post and I was past it. Then I discovered how ripples appear some time after a post. A few days after my first dive into the lake, there were people – unknown people – reading what I was writing. They were commenting on “First past the post.” I began to wish I hadn’t chosen such a numerically definite title. First is only first when it is first. But never mind the wording, I told myself; I was getting responses from unknown people who seemed to appreciate what I was saying.
Then, among the genuine responses came the useless ones, intent on selling their own wares. I haven’t yet learnt how to stop these coming in. Perhaps it’s inevitable that you’ll receive unwelcome visitors when you offer an open forum. So far they are not harmful, just a nuisance.
The comments which I welcome are from people who want to learn something new. However, I’m not sure exactly what the something new might be. Perhaps they simply like to read of my experience as a long-term writer dealing with the opportunities and obstacles that exist in present day publishing. It would be helpful if any readers of this post would present a specific question. Even without such prompting, I find there is always a new thought that pops up and inspires a post.
Looking back at my first post, I’m reminded of my reason for setting up the site. I thought I would – with a fair ration of good luck – reach new readers for my work, particularly for “Alive in World War Two, The Cousins’ Chronicle”. There have been sales, but no more than there might have been without this website. I know the thing to do is to stay put, keep with it, not give up. So I’ll carry on. I’ll continue with this First Past the Post as many times as it stays worth it for me and for – I hope – others.
I’m just at the beginning of this lesson. I’m not even sure if the job title is still Publicity Relations Officer. But I have learnt one or two things since I began hoping to sell my books this autumn.
First of all, it’s necessary to have the confidence that what you are selling is worth selling. This is not easy when it is your own work.
It’s like looking in the mirror. Do you count the lines on your forehead? Those will surely have increased just by looking at them with a critical eye. Those of us who regard our own image with lasting satisfaction are few and far between. The same applies to writing. Of course it’s right to be self-critical while you are doing the writing. But if you want to sell your own book, then you have to squash that impish little self-doubting critic and concentrate on what is good.
The next imp that jumps in is the one who tells us not to boast. I wonder if this imp pesters people of my (elderly) generation more than others. I know I was brought up not to draw attention to myself. This attitude is a severe disadvantage if you want to sell your work.
But an advantage we have nowadays is the way we can easily communicate with the world without leaving the safety of our own rooms. I have decided to run an advertising campaign on LinkedIn. I’ve placed an ad, with the image of the cover of “A Home from Home”, on a pay per click basis. Clicks will come through to this website, but will any click on this site result in another click to the Amazon page of the novel? And will that further click result in a sale? It seems a long chance.
My early career as an advertising copywriter prompted me to write FREE in big letters in the headline. The only thing I could offer free was the ebook edition on Kindle Unlimited. So no royalties there. But it may bring me new readers. And that’s my biggest aim.
Malpractice and mayhem in a care home – and the elderly residents triumph.